Sunday, May 31, 2015

Patriotism v. Nationalism

I regard myself as a British patriot because I love my country, not because I hate anyone else's or regard mine as superior.

I'm currently trying to memorise a piece of masonic ritual which includes an encouragement of allegiance to one's native land with the words

"ever remembering that nature has implanted in your breast a sacred and indissoluble attachment towards that country whence you derived your birth and infant nurture."

In other words the authors of that passage believed it right and natural that, say, a Frenchman should love France, that an American should love America or a Pole love Poland, and that - the key point - none of these feelings is inimical to the others.

That, to me is the difference between Patriotism and Nationalism. I have never heard of or met any nationalist movement which did not at least to some extent define itself by what it was not, and by reference to those who were not "one of us" as well as by what it was.

There was a time in the 19th century when nationalism could be seen as a progressive force because it encouraged people to obtain freedom by throwing off the yoke of oppressive foreign despots.

In the 20th century, however, nationalism has increasingly been the cause of wars and conflicts, of which the National Socialist German Workers Party, the NSDAP or as they are more usually known, the Nazi party, were the extreme example.

In this post I am going to be extremely critical of certain strands of nationalism. Let me make clear that I do not think all nationalists are neo-nazis, nor that everyone who supports UKIP or British exit from the EU is insane - indeed, I have not decided how to vote myself in the EU referendum yet - nor that all SNP supporters are mad, nor that either group are not entitled to their opinions.

I do however think that some forms of nationalism are both extremely foolish and downright  dangerous to the welfare of any country where those views become popular.

It is perfectly possible to want to reform or even leave the European Union on the basis of a worldview which is patriotic and outward-looking rather than nationalist and xenophobic.


NATIONALISM AND THE EU

I consider it perfectly natural for each country to want its' representatives to the EU to fight for their national interests. Hence when David Cameron goes to Brussels or to other European capitals to fight for British interests, it should be perfectly possible for him to find allies who recognise that policies which he is arguing for to protect British interests will also be in their country's interests too.

I know people who believe that the present EU is not working for any of the peoples of Europe and want it disbanded, or failing that for us to leave, without hating or being hostile to our neighbours.

However, I do not like the level of hostility to people of other countries which I see being whipped up in most the countries of Europe by various nationalistic parties -  the French National Front, "Golden Dawn" in Greece for example.

This does not apply to all Eurosceptics, here or elsewhere. There are plenty of Eurosceptics in both the Conservative party and UKIP who are not guilty of the sort of thing I am talking about, such as Dan Hannan MEP or Douglas Carswell MP, to give two of the most obvious examples. Eurosceptic parties which do not peddle chauvinistic nationalism include the AFD (Alternative fur Deutschland) in Germany.

But I do have concerns about the level of anger against, first, those who are seen as foreigners, and then anyone perceived as inadequately tough on them, among a large chunk of the supporters of two very different types of nationalism.

The first is the hardline British nationalism of some people in UKIP. And the second is the hardline element of the Scottish National Party.


EU vs. USSR

Let me just give one example of the sort of UKIP thinking which I find to be seriously over the top - some "Kippers" habitually refer to the European Union as the "EUSSR."

Now I would be the first to admit that the EU has a democratic deficit and sometimes adopts centralised bureaucratic policies which remind me of GOSPLAN. So the term has just - just - enough truth in it to have been funny the first time I heard it.

But some people talk as if they mean it. As if the EU was the sort of blood-drenched dictatorship propped up by the KGB which killed opponents on a scale only rivalled in recent centuries by Hitler, Mao or WWII era Imperial Japan, or as if Jean-Claude Junker had a human rights record like that of Yuri Andropov.

This becomes all the more ironic when the same people who use the term "EUSSR" also try to blame everything which has gone wrong in the Ukraine on the EU. It was, after all, Vladimir Putin who actually was a KGB officer under Comrade Andropov. And it shows.


SCOTTISH NATIONALISM

And the same sort of anger combined with complete lift-off from reality is displayed by a significant part - not, I hasten to emphasise, all - of those who support the SNP.

I have previously referred to the recent article in "The Scotsman" about the abuse David Mundell MP, re-elected as the one Tory MP in Scotland, received from "Cybernats" and if you want to know what he was talking about you need look no further than the comments some of them have posted on his article: you can read both at

http://www.scotsman.com/news/politics/top-stories/david-mundell-cybernats-helped-me-to-election-win-1-3782135

A short while before last year's Independence Referendum, the Economist journalist who currently writes their "Bagehot" column wrote a provocatively titled article called

"How a nation went mad."

In that article Bagehot made what I believe to be a very strong case that many of the arguments being advanced for Scottish independence were incoherent nonsense and it was frightening how many normally rational people were taken in by this "exhilarating delusion."

Bagehot suggests that

"In England, socialism is dead because people remember the wreckage of the mixed economy and the 1978 winter of discontent. In Scotland it lives on, because people believe it was sabotaged by the English."

A similar provocative title was given to a piece written this month in "Standpoint" Iain Martin,

"How Scotland lost its' mind."

As the spelling of his Christian name gives away, Iain is a Scot by birth and although he lives in London thinks of Scotland as home. Which did not stop him being described as English by some of the comments on the article.

Let me give you a representative example of such comments, and I will make an exception to my usual standards of the language I accept on this site to make the point. A person calling herself "Dr Angela McBain" replied to his article with the words.

"What a moronic, baseless, tasteless and utterly ignorant pile of shit you write. Not even worthy of a high brow response. Crawl back in your hole."

Charming.

Here is an extract from the article:

"A former Labour cabinet minister told me of a recent encounter with a senior social worker in his Scottish constituency, who proclaimed proudly that she would never vote Labour again because the party had got into bed with the filthy Tories to defend the Union during the referendum. She knew, she said, exactly what was going on.

He expressed regret on hearing her view and asked, out of interest, where she got her news and her theories from. From Facebook, she said. Like many SNP supporters, every evening she logs onto social media for her fill of nationalist news, as she does not trust the BBC or newspapers.

And did the fall in the oil price not concern her?

“She said to me,” said the MP, “that it was a plot by the global oil companies and the British government to keep Scotland supine and in the Union. I suggested politely that this sounded odd. If there was a sinister plot by the oil companies wouldn’t it involve increasing rather than reducing the price? After all, the reduction in the oil price has slashed their profits. She wouldn’t listen.”


Iain Martin argues that people of strongly nationalist views form a "tartan echo chamber" bouncing nationalist ideas off each other and reinforcing them without the testing that would come from a real debate or any willingness to accept even facts, let alone opinions, which do not fit their preconceptions.


CONCLUSION

A lesson there for all of us, perhaps, not just nationalists and socialists. If we get all our news and views, and debate online, only with people who have similar opinions to our existing views and reinforce them, we will be cutting ourselves off from the experience and knowledge of large parts of society. This may be part of the reason why so many "experts" were so badly wrong about the result of the 2015 general election. And some people may get a similar shock with the EU Referendum.

Whichever way the EU referendum vote goes, I don't think either side is going to get less than 35%. I also suspect that a significant proportion of the losing side will be utterly shocked and horrified to learn that they are not in the majority. After all, nobody with any sense is going to trust the opinion polls, will they?

Occasional Music slot for Trinity Sunday: Stainer's "I saw the Lord"

This being Trinity Sunday, the lesson this morning in every Anglican church was from Isaiah, telling of his vision of heaven in the year King Uzziah died. So the choice of an occasional music slot for today makes itself.

There have been several attempts to set this passage of scripture to music, but by far the most memorable is Sir John Stainer's "I Saw The Lord" for double SATB choir and SATB soloists. I heard this piece referred to by Simon Lindley, then assistant organist at St Albans Cathedral and later organist of Leeds Parish Church, as an amazing "musical battle" and this is not a bad description. It has everything - both rousing and peaceful passages, strong tunes and beautiful counterpoint, clear themes and glorious harmony.




And don't forget, #SupportOption1

Quote of the day for Trinity Sunday, 31st May 2015

"All sorts of people are fond of repeating the Christian statement that "God is love." But they seem not to notice that the words 'God is love' have no real meaning unless God contains at least two persons. Love is something that one person has for another person. If God was a single person, then before the world was made, He was not love."

( C. S. Lewis on the idea of the Trinity)

Saturday, May 30, 2015

West Cumberland Hospital march on 14th June

A march to support maintaining services at West Cumberland Hospital is being organised for Sunday 14th June by the We Need West Cumberland Hospital group.

The march begins at the Market Place gazebo at 1.30pm then will proceed up King Street, turning off at Lowther Street and walking to Castle Park.

More comments on my hospitals blog at:

http://savewestcumbriahospitals.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/march-for-wch-services-set-for-sunday.html

A referendum wording to satisfy the hard-liners

There was an article on the News Thump website a couple of years ago which seems quite timely now: "Farage demands 'Yes we leave' or 'No we don't stay in' EU referendum."

You can never please everyone ...

Another way to select Labour's next leader

The Daily Mash is suggesting that the hustings session for the candidates to be leader of the Labour party should be the "Sandwich-off" - a test of their ability to eat a bacon sandwich while being filmed from various angles.

Quote of the day 30th May 2015

"It would help Labour if it had leaders who talked to the voters as if they came from the same human species — or if that is too much to ask, from close relatives among the higher primates."

(Nick Cohen, in an article in Standpoint titled "Labour doesn't get why the Tories won.")

Friday, May 29, 2015

Mob attack on Carswell was a disgrace

Obviously I very strongly disagree with Douglas Carswell's decision to move from the Conservatives to UKIP. I do not like the party he has joined.

However, it is typical of the man that he should have been walking past Scotland Yard when there was an anti-Globalisation protest and should have stopped to chat to some of the demonstrators.

It is the sort of politics we once had in this country that a prominent politician could, if they had the guts, as Carswell does and many politicians right up to the status of Prime Minister once did, stop and talk to demonstrators instead of being cocooned in TV studios or party meetings with carefully selected people.

But then suddenly, because some of the demonstrators other than those he was talking to had recognised him, a large and threatening flash mob formed, shouting things like "UKIP, Racist" and "Scum."

Douglas Carswell had to be taken away in a police van for his own protection.

How on earth do the demonstrators imagine that behaving like THIS will advance the views they were expressing?

It doesn't. It makes them look like anti-democratic thugs.

When I was a student I remember that one particular person on the right of the Conservative party used to wind up the left at any opportunity by describing anyone left of Ted Heath as "Red Fascist Scum!"

That accusation was usually well over the top, but I think the expression "Red Fascist" would not be out of place as a description of the behaviour of the mob which attacked Douglas Carswell.

There are plenty of honourable and decent left-wingers who agree with the objectives which the protesters think they were supporting but would never dream of acting like that. They are the people who the mob most betrayed.

Referendum Bill now published

The draft proposed bill for an EU referendum was published this week and can be read at

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/2015-2016/0002/16002.pdf

Whither the Lib/Dems?

I have been reading a number of assessments about what happens to various parties now, and the most interesting concern the Liberal Democrats.

Mark Pack's blog had some powerful comments, and as I mentioned in a previous post, pointed me in the direction of a sober and realistic article by Ryan Coetzee, who was one of the Lib/Dems' top election strategists, on what went wrong for them:

Causes and implications of the Liberal Democrats' 2015 election result.

It seems to me that, having come through the crucible of taking part in government and then an incredible painful election defeat, the Lib/Dems could go one of two ways.

They can either remain, as they have been for the past five years, a party which tries to live in the real world and tries to come up with workable answers to the difficult challenges and choices facing councils and governments which cannot be run on the basis of being nice to everyone. This would mean they have difficulty getting back the "None of the above" protest vote which they used to rely on, and they would get fewer tactical votes. But they would keep some of the respect they have earned over the last parliament.

That would be the brave option, it's the one that does carry some risk that they could cease to exist at all but also gives them a faint chance of being back in position to influence government, maybe even back in government, by 2025. If they go down that route there is just a chance the electorate might notice that they could be a far better alternative to the Conservatives - or whatever is the main centre-right party, because we Tories must not assume our present ascendancy will last forever - than the current Labour party is.

Or the Lib/Dems can try to return to their comfort zone as a protest party. In which case they will survive, but will stay at the level where you could fit all their MPs in one minibus for a long time, just as the Liberal party did for a large part of the 20th century.

In either event I suspect that after the tuition fees debacle they will be far more careful what they promise in future, which would be a very great improvement.

I don't know whether any of the doubts in voters' minds over the Labour party which contributed to Miliband's defeat was due to people noticing that Labour attacks on the Lib/Dems over tuition fees were total hypocrisy given Labour's own almost identical behaviour over election promises on tuition fees at the 1997 and 2001 general elections which were also broken. With far less excuse.

But Labour won't learn that lesson, or apologise. They never do.

Unlike Labour, some Lib/Dems have shown that they are capable of learning from their mistakes. And the same electoral system which crucified them this month might bring them back and crucify Labour if for the third consecutive time Labour make a bad mistake about their leadership.

(I'm counting leaving Gordon Brown in place to fight the 2010 election as their first - a Conservative PM who was such a disaster would certainly have been removed by the party - and electing Ed Miliband as their second. Electing Andy Burnham or Yvette Cooper might well be the hat-trick.)


If the Lib/Dems can avoid a retreat to their comfort zone, the possibility that they might regain from Labour the position the Liberals once held as the main progressive contender for power in Britain might not be nearly as impossible as it may appear today.

Quote of the day 29th May 2015

"In the fantasy world that many on the left inhabit there are money trees at the end of the garden and a nationalised British Rail offered a better train service than we have today.  To even suggest that, maybe, we should encourage economic growth instead of thinking we can pay for everything by “taxing the rich” or that, actually, competition has driven up standards on the railways, as in many other areas, is nothing better than treachery.

"The Green party represent the apotheosis of this approach, as seen at a close-to-comical way in their housing proposal to end excessive rents in the private sector by building social housing paid for by taxes on excessive rents in the private sector.

"Such perpetual motion machines are a leftist commonplace, and even to point the flaws out is to reveal oneself as part of the enemy – lacking faith in the sense of a refusal to believe in an idea for which no supporting evidence exists."

(Adrian McMenamin, a Labour party member, in an article in Labour Uncut called "I am a revisionist not a right-winger," in which he argues that the Labour party should move a bit closer to the real world. Good luck with that, but I admire his guts.)

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Inquests and premature obituaries

Various political parties have been conducting inquests into how badly they did in the elections: some sensible, others showing a complete lift-off from reality.

Meanwhile there have been two suggestions, both premature in my view, about how major political parties should wind themselves up.

Hat tip to Mark Pack for pointing me in the direction of a very sober and sensible article by Ryan Coetzee, who was one of the Lib/Dems' top election strategists, on what went wrong for them:

Causes and implications of the Liberal Democrats' 2015 election result.

A similar approach from the viewpoint of a former Labour member who did in fact vote for them in the 2015 General Election but with very mixed feelings has been penned by Dan Hodges in the Telegraph, making the very sensible point that 

Before Labour can move on the Left needs to admit that it was wrong.

He makes the point by linking to one of the most deranged articles I have ever read, even from Polly Toynbee (and that's saying something), here.

One the other side there have been "helpful" suggestions from Danny Finkelstein and Andrew Roberts, suggesting that the Lib/Dems and Labour parties respectively should be wound up.

Danny's article in today's Times was headed RIP Liberal Democrats it's all over for you.

Andrew Roberts wrote a piece in the Telegraph called Death to the Labour Party, a somewhat over-the-top way of suggesting that

"the Labour Party’s time as a useful force in British politics has now passed."

and that the party should therefore be disbanded.

No political party lasts forever and I would not rule out the possibility that most of those reading this will outlive the Lib/Dems, the Labour Party, or both, but the period immediately after a shattering election defeat is not necessarily the wisest moment to make such a decision.

About a decade and a half ago the Guardian journalist Francis Wheen, who like many very clever people appears to suffer from inability to appreciate that people who hold views he dislikes might occasionally be right, wrote that he suspected that the Conservative Party had joined the Liberals on the rubbish dump of history.

Among the things he had not allowed for was what Harold MacMillan called "Events, dear boy, events."

I found Wheen's article and framed it in 2010 after the formation of a Conservative & Lib/Dem coalition government.

But although in the event he was wrong, based on the situation at the time he wrote that article Francis Wheen might well have been right. If the Conservatives had been stupid enough to go into the 2005 general election with IDS as leader I am far from certain that the party would still exist, or that if it did we would be in government.

It was a necessary condition to regain power that we did not regard it as inevitable that the pendulum of history would bring us back to office without sorting ourselves out.

Labour would still have lost office sooner or later, but if David Cameron had not reformed the Conservative party, it would not have been to us.

Similarly the Conservative government will not last forever. Sooner or later the electorate will find something to replace us.

I hope when that day comes that they have something less useless than the present day Labour party to elect instead. If Labour fails to reform itself, it is possible that another party might become first the opposition and then the next government.

Politics lends itself to amazing swings. Look at the history of Mark Harper's party which is currently running Canada. In the 80's the "Progressive Conservatives" were in government in Canada. Then the right split with the rise of the Reform party, and in the 1993 election the "Progressive Conservatives" were reduced from majority government status to a rump of just two seats. For ten years the right remained split, handing power to the Canadian Liberals. Then the centre right parties merged to form the Conservative Party of Canada, which won enough seats to form a minority government in 2006 and a majority government since 2011.

Is it possible that the Labour party, the Lib/Dems, or both, are dying? Absolutely yes.

Is it inevitable? Absolutely not.

Would it be healthy for Britain if either or both were to be disbanded this year? No, and not until another credible alternative to the Conservatives is clearly in place. Politics needs a responsible and credible opposition.

News Thump on Tony Blair's resignation

Warning - this article contains strong traces of three dangerous substances; Irony, Humour, and mention of Tony Blair.

Those socialists for whom exposure to irony causes an allergic reaction should not read this. Those who wish they could pretend that Tony Blair never existed definitely should not follow this link:

http://newsthump.com/2015/05/27/tony-blair-resigns-in-glory-after-bringing-peace-to-the-middle-east/

I particularly like the last line about Blair's next possible role - the suggestion being to send him to talk to Vladimir Putin about the Ukraine and explain that it's wrong to invade places based on some nonsense that you just made up ...

Summary of measures in the Queen's Speech

An EU referendum by the end of 2017 is among a packed programme of new laws in the first Conservative Queen's Speech in nearly two decades.
 
It also includes more free childcare, an income tax freeze and the right-to-buy for housing association tenants. As in the previous post, David Cameron described the 26-bill package was a "programme for working people" that would create full employment and "bring our country together".

The proposed legislation includes:
  • A ban on income tax, VAT and national insurance increases for five years
  • A freeze on working age benefits, tax credits and child benefit for two years from 2016/17
  • 30 hours free childcare a week for three and four-year-olds by 2017
  • Cutting the total amount one household can claim in benefits from £26,000 to £23,000
  • More devolution for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and "English votes for English laws" at Westminster
  • 500 more free schools and more failing and "coasting" schools turned into Academies
  • A ban on so-called legal highs
  • A "truly seven day" NHS by 2020
  • The BBC has a bill-by-bill rundown of the full programme.
  • an Investigatory Powers Bill to give intelligence agencies new tools to target internet data intended to protect citizens from terrorists.
But there will be widespread consultation prior to implementation of proposals which the government will bring forward for a British Bill of Rights to replace the Human Rights Act, with legislation expected following that consultation later in the parliament.

I think it is important we get this legislation right and that a proper British Bill of Rights to protect our ancient freedoms is on our own statute book, rather than outsourcing the protection of our ancient liberties to the ECHR.

There was no mention in the speech of a promised free vote on repeal of the badly drafted and unworkable Hunting Act, but environment secretary Liz Truss said this will happen by 2020.

DC on the Queen's Speech

Prime Minister David Cameron writes:

 
 
"When we came to office in 2010, Britain was on the brink. Our task was urgent: to rescue our economy from the mire. With that economy now going in the right direction, we are once again on the brink - but this time, on the brink of something special. We have a golden opportunity to renew the idea that working people are backed in this country; to renew the promise to those least fortunate that they will have the opportunity for a brighter future; and to renew the ties that bind every part of our United Kingdom.

We now have the mandate to deliver that renewal. And it starts with today's Queen's Speech: a clear programme for working people, social justice, and bringing our country together - put simply, a One Nation Queen's Speech from a One Nation Government.

The first task of a One Nation Government is to help all working people have security. And nothing is more crucial to that than a job. A new Bill will help to create two million more jobs this Parliament. That means there should be a job for everyone who wants one - in other words, full employment. To help people get those jobs, we'll train them up; three million more will start apprenticeships over the next five years.

We will also reward work by letting people keep even more of the money they earn - for the first time putting it into law that the Minimum Wage is and always will be tax free. That will be alongside a five-year tax lock which means there will be no income tax, VAT or National Insurance rate rises in this Parliament.

The second big focus of this Queen's Speech is championing social justice. That starts with education: a decent schooling for every child, no matter where they're from. Our school reforms in the last Parliament were bold; one million more children are now learning in good or outstanding schools. In this Parliament they will be bolder still: taking over and turning into Academies not just failing schools but coasting ones too, as part of our new Education and Adoption Bill; opening not just a few more Free Schools, but 500 more.

Of course, there is nothing that embodies the spirit of One Nation and the cause of social justice more than our NHS, which is there for everyone, whoever they are, regardless of their ability to pay. So we will continue increasing spending on our health service, by at least £8 billion a year by 2020, and make it a truly 7-day NHS.

We will also continue our welfare reforms that help people into jobs, reducing the benefit cap further, to £23,000. Our reforms will incentivise work - so people are always better off after a day at the office or factory than they would have been sitting at home.

That's true social justice - not handing people benefit cheque after benefit cheque with no end in sight, but turning workless households into working households; the misery of unemployment into the purpose and dignity of employment; and the welfare system into a lifeline, not a way of life.

Third, this Queen's Speech will bring every part of our United Kingdom together. Our legislation will make sure this recovery reaches everyone, from the oldest industrial towns to the remotest rural villages. Our High Speed 2 Bill will help bring our great northern cities together in a Northern Powerhouse that rivals the biggest cities in the world.

For our different nations and regions to coexist as One Nation, people must have more direct power over the areas in which they live. So our Cities Devolution Bill will allow them to bid for an elected mayor, with far more sway over planning, transport, policing and health. We will have a Scotland Bill, a Wales Bill and a Northern Ireland Bill, and will put into practice our promises on devolution - making Holyrood the most powerful devolved Parliament in the world. Governing with respect means respecting the wishes of the English too.

That's why we will address the fundamental unfairness devolution causes in England, by introducing English votes for English laws. And the UK will have more control over its affairs, as we bring forward proposals for a British Bill of Rights to replace the Human Rights Act. We will also legislate to have an EU Referendum before the end of 2017, putting the question to the British people for the first time in 40 years: the European Union - in or out. Underpinning all of this is security. With an Extremism Bill, an Investigatory Powers Bill and a Policing and Criminal Justice Bill, we will keep our people safe.
 
That's our legislative programme. It's challenging but doable; optimistic but realistic. It's the bold first step of a One Nation Government - a Government for working people. And this is the Britain we're setting out to create: a Britain where you can get a decent job, have a good education, buy a home of your own, have dignity when you retire, and feel safe and secure throughout your life. In the last Parliament we laid the foundations for that; in this Parliament we will use them to build something special. We've now got the majority we need. With this Queen's Speech we're going to get on and do it - for every single person in this great nation.
 
So - if you haven't already - please join the Conservative Party today, and play your part in everything we'll achieve together in the next five years.
 
Thank you,
David Cameron"


Promoted by Alan Mabbutt on behalf of the Conservative Party, both at 4 Matthew Parker Street, London, SW1H 9HQ

Quote of the day 27th May 2015

Malcolm Bruce: “If you’re suggesting that every MP who has never quite told the truth, or indeed told a brazen lie [should go], including cabinet ministers, including prime ministers, we’d clear out the House of Commons very fast I would suggest.”

BBC: “You’re saying that lying in public life is widespread?”

Malcolm Bruce: No. Well, yes. I think the answer is lots of people have told lies and you know that to be perfectly true.”

https://audioboom.com/boos/3217150-malcolm-bruce-on-alistair-Carmichael

(Former Lib/Dem deputy leader Malcolm Bruce attempting to defend fellow Lib/Dem Alistair Carmichael on BBC radio. Hat tip to Guide Fawkes at http://order-order.com/2015/05/26/top-libdem-forgive-carmichael-because-all-mps-lie/#_@/NySvabdz_r8rFQ)

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Some "Daily Mash" spoofs

The Daily Mash has been amusing themselves since the election with various spoof articles about why the election went the way it did and how various people have supposedly reacted.

Most of the links on this page, except the one to the Roberts article in the Telegraph, direct to sites with strong language not suitable for children or the easily offended.

Perhaps my favourite of the Daily Mash articles over the last few days concerned a suggested replacement for the Labour party.

The article is called "New party for socialist misanthropes a hit" and begins

"MEMBERSHIP has surged for a new party for left-wingers who want to help the ordinary people they absolutely despise."

Joking aside, it is high time we on the right made much more about how much many of those who describe themselves as progressive or socialists hate actual poor people (as opposed to some fantasy ideal of them.)

There is a slightly more serious suggestion (it might be more accurate to call it a more subtle wind-up) by Andrew Roberts in the Telegraph that the Labour party should wind itself up.

The Daily Mash also have great fun with the gap between what voters told pollsters and how they actually voted here and in a piece called  "Lying to opinion pollsters is great fun say voters."

Their explanation of why Nigel Farage's resignation as leader of UKIP was not accepted was that

"The party rejected Farage's resignation after looking at its' other options and deciding they were too frightening."
Supposedly "A UKIP spokesman said: 'Everyone else in the running looked like something from the Star Wars cantina. There was strong grass roots support for ‘Beast’, the man-like carnivore that inhabits the basement of UKIP HQ and is fed on a diet of illegal foreigners. ... '

The Daily Mash also suggest that the Human Rights Act is to be replaced with the Warhammer 40K rulebook.

There is a whole host of entries about the Labour party: from what Ed Miliband supposedly thinks of his brother's comments on his campaign and how the Blairite standard bearer for the Labour leadership,  Liz Kendall is planning to publicly punch Britain's last coal miner; to the ironic suggestion that, quote,

"CHUKA Umunna has pulled out of Labour’s leadership contest in horror at the press’s unprecedented willingness to be unpleasant about him."

After all, "Nobody ever said anything mean about Ed Miliband says Chuka Umunna."

No, surely not!

The Dunkirk spirit

I have already referred to the events being held this week to commemorate the Dunkirk evacuation, Operation Dynamo, which took place from 26th May to 4th June 1940 and hence began 75 years ago today.

338,000 allied soldiers were rescued from Nazi forces by the Royal navy and by hundreds of small craft, from fishing boats and pleasure yachts to lifeboats.

About 50 of the little ships which took part and are still afloat sailed from Kent a few days ago and arrived in France where they are taking part in the 75th anniversary commemoration ceremonies.

There are many stories of heroism from the war that saved the world from fascism. All of them deserve to be remembered but the heroes of both the Royal Navy and the "little ships" of Dunkirk are and should be high on the list.
 
Although Churchill was right to say that "Wars are not won by evacuations" the fact that so many men of the BEF were rescued helped ensure that the initial defeats in France did not cause us to lose the war.

Quote of the day 26th May 2015

"Wars are not won by evacuations."

(Winston Churchill tempering his praise for the success of Operation Dynamo, the Dunkirk evacuation, which began 75 years ago today.)

Monday, May 25, 2015

On communities and voting

One positive aspect of the election was that cultural and ethnic tribalism in voting patterns is clearly disappearing, which as Britain is clearly now a multicultural society is a good thing.

According to a recent thread on Political Betting,

"New research finds that the tories took a third of the ethnic minority vote at GE2015."

You can read about this research at British Future at

http://www.britishfuture.org/articles/ethnic-minority-votes-up-for-grabs/

Conservative candidates apparently received 38% of the Asian vote - almost identical to (in fact about a point above) our share among the electorate as a whole.

The party also passed the million barrier in the total number of ethnic votes received for the first time.

Part of the reason for this is that more members of ethnic minorities than ever before are now both putting themselves forward as Conservative candidates and actually being selected on a colour-blind basis. (We no longer have the infamous "A list" because we no longer need it - and it was an Asian woman, Sayeeda Warsi, who scrapped it.) People like Priti Patel and Sajid Javid are now serving in the Conservative cabinet and nobody in their right mind would argue that either got there on anything other than ability.

That has to be a good thing: people should be elected on the basis of what they stand for and what they can offer, not their skin colour or a tribal view of their culture.

Tolerance and Pluralism

Since the election my attention has been rather forcibly directed to issues of tolerance and pluralism towards alternative views.

I never minded when some of my favourite actors and comedians took a different view of politics, even to the extent when the election address from my opponent in an election came through the door with an endorsement from someone I particularly enjoy watching (David Tennant) because I believe in democracy and that absolutely requires you to accept other points of view. Sometimes, as when Eddie Izzard supported Jim Murphy during the recent election campaign at a time and place which exposed them both to virulent abuse from SNP supporters I have even admired people who were putting forward a different point of view when that took guts.

But I do mind when people start objecting to my point of view or to that point of view winning an election.

Hence David Tennant and Eddie Izzard campaigning for Labour during an election campaign is 100% legitimate and the fact that I don't agree with their politics has not stopped me from enjoying their professional work or for that matter from respecting them as people.

Charlotte Church, however, and others who took part in a protest after an election, did disgrace themselves. Campaigning for or against a particular result is one thing, protesting when more people vote for a different result suggests you think you know better than everyone else, and that's not a pretty sight.

David Mundell, re-elected as the one Tory MP in Scotland made a point in "The Scotsman" about the abuse he got from "Cybernats" and if you want to know what he was talking about you need look no further than the comments some of them have posted on his article: you can read both at

http://www.scotsman.com/news/politics/top-stories/david-mundell-cybernats-helped-me-to-election-win-1-3782135

A couple of days ago I referred to an article on Conservative Home by Quentin Langley, an old friend from my University days, which made the point that

"A secret of our recent success: We understand the Left better than it understands us."

You can summarise his article with the words that we get their argument but think they're wrong, they think we're evil.

But just has neither right nor left has a monopoly on wisdom or on right and wrong, there are some people in all parts of the political spectrum who are just too ready to write off others on partisan grounds.

I noted on Political Betting a few days ago during a discussion on the Labour leadership that someone called Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper nonentities - someone else responded by calling David Cameron and George Osborne nonentities.

Oh, please grow up.

As it happens, there are two on that list of four people who I like and respect and two whose views I violently disagree with, and it is no surprise that this exactly fits with which party people are in.

But to describe any of the four of them, including the two I don't like or agree with, as nonentities is just ridiculous. Whatever you think about DC, he will go down with Thatcher, Blair and Wilson as one of the four most successful election winners in Britain in the century after World War II having secured the largest number of Conservative gains in an election of any Conservative leader in history (in 2010) and as one of only two sitting Prime Ministers since the war to increase both vote share and seats or go from a hung parliament to a majority (the other was Wilson - Maggie's landslide in 1983 was gained on a static vote share due to a split opposition.) No nonenty could have managed that. And like them or loathe them, it is equally silly to describe George Osborne, Andy Burnham, or Yvette Cooper as nonentities.

In a mature democracy we really ought to be able to handle people having very different views without being too quick to dismiss those views as illegitimate or evil.

The events of  the last fortnight have convinced me that Britain is not as much of a mature democracy as I thought.

Quote of the day 25th May 2015

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Quentin Langley on how the right understands the left better than vice versa

Quentin Langley, an old friend from my University days who was studying at what was then called Plymouth Poly while I was at Bristol, has written an excellent article on Conservative Home called

"A secret of our recent success: We understand the Left better than it understands us."

He assesses what he calls

"the Left’s biggest failing and its biggest success. The failing is that people on the left generally misunderstand conservatives. The success is that a great many people – and not just left-wing voters – have swallowed a key element of left-wing propaganda."

(e.g. that people vote for right wing purposes for selfish reasons.)

He goes on that the left's weakness is that

"On the whole, conservatives believe that their opponents are well-meaning, but naive or just mistaken. To far too many on the left, conservatives are simply evil.  The Left does not concede that conservatives have a different idea of what is fair or just. It maintains instead that conservatives do not care about fairness or justice. For all the claims of being well-educated, rational, and broad-minded, there are many on the left who simply cannot imagine the concept of good faith disagreement with their position."

And hence their failure to understand why many people do not vote for them or to communicate effectively with anyone who might consider voting Conservative.

My current Political Compass score

I thought I would revisit the Political Compass site to see where I currently stand and how it compares with the current view of the main political parties. This was the result.

https://www.politicalcompass.org/certificate?pname=Chris+Whiteside&ec=5.13&soc=-3.44






I do think that their analysis which uses two dimensions - left or right accordiny to your view of economic liberalism, up or down according to your degree of social authoritarianism (top) or liberalism (down) is far more helpful than a simple left versus right analysis.

I was not surprised to find myself still in the in the bottom right corner of the chart, but was very surprised to find myself alone there: Political Compass thinks the Lib/Dems have become more socially authoritarian and moved into the top right corner of the chart along with almost all the main political parties.

My previous scores have been a little further to the right and only just below the zero line between social authoritarianism and social liberalism, which to be honest I think is closer to the truth. They have me only slightly to the right of Labour on economics and well to the left of the Conservatives, which is frankly ridiculous.

I still believe Political Compass do a good job encouraging people to think about politics in a more sophisticated way, but their questionnaire appears, I think, to place people further "South" (more socially liberal) and economically nearer the centre than is perhaps the case, while the have placed all the main political parties significantly further right and a little further "North" than I would have.

Quote of the day: 23rd May 2015: Last word on the "Edstone"

"History is written by the winners and the Labour Party will rue the day they ordered the EdStone to be made.
 
"If you read what is written there closely they are all so vague. They are not worth what they are written on."

(This quote was attributed by the newspapers Steve Vanhinsbergh, who with his brother Jeff are the directors of Stone Circle, the company which actually made the "Edstone." )

Asked how he had voted he added that he had voted Tory because

"Conservatives generally are more pro-business and I was a little bit worried about Labour's policies with regard to business."

Friday, May 22, 2015

Balls does a Portillo

The defining moment of the 1983 election (in which I was running a Conservative polling district in Bristol on polling day) was Tony Benn's defeat in Bristol East.

The defining moment of the 1997 election was that of Michael Portillo, and after the election one famous question was "Were you still up for Portillo?"

A key defining moment of the 2015 election was the defeat of Ed Balls.

Whatever you think of any of the three men, all three took their defeats with great dignity, showed respect for the decision of the voters and in turn earned respect from anyone watching who was not a completely incorrigible partisan (e.g. someone far more partisan than me.)

Michael Portillo reinvented himself after his 1997 defeat, with a change in approach about which many were cynical at the time but with hindsight appears to have been completely genuine, and it looks like Ed Balls may be doing the same.

See this fascinating Telegraph article,

"Ed Balls: I was one of the reasons Labour was unelectable."

Palmyra

The fall of Palmyra to DAESH is a tragedy. The fact that they will be in a position to destroy priceless and irreplaceable relics is bad enough. The fact that they have been destroying priceless and irreplaceable human lives is worse.

Apparently they have killed at least nine children and beheaded local men.

There are not easy answers but we need to help those local states and groups who appear to be decent human beings and have a chance of standing up to the killers of DAESH (I refuse to call them "Islamic State") to do so.

Quote of the day 22nd May 2015


 
 
 
 











And don't forget, #SupportOption1

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Nigel Farage says UKIP is "100% united."

Yes, he really said that. What next, I wonder?

Equivalent headlines might be

"David Cameron says immigration is down"

"Ed Miliband says Labour won the election."

"Nicola Sturgeon says the SNP have a rational economic policy"

"Jean-Claude Juncker says he welcomes the forthcoming British EU membership referendum"

"Jamie Reed says he actually does have a chance of becoming leader or deputy leader of the Labour party ..."

Remembering the "Little Ships" and heroes of Dunkirk

This year sees the 75th anniversary of some of the most significant events of World War II including the Battle of Britain and the Dunkirk evacuation, Operation Dynamo, which took place from 26th May to 4th June 1940.

338,000 allied soldiers were rescued from Nazi forces by the Royal navy and by hundreds of small craft, from fishing boats and pleasure yachts to lifeboats.

About 50 of the little ships which took part and are still afloat sailed from Kent earlier today and arrived in France where they will be taking part in the 75th anniversary commemoration ceremonies.

There are many stories of heroism from the war that saved the world from fascism. All of them deserve to be remembered but the heroes of Dunkirk are and should be high on the list.

CPI inflation goes negative, RPI inflation stable at 0.9%

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) measure of annual inflation dropped from zero to 0.1% last month, going negative for the first time since records began.

The price indices produced by the Office for National Statistics represent the change in overall average prices over the previous 12 months - in other words this is saying that average prices in April this year were very marginally lower than prices in April 2014.

The drop into negative territory is almost certainly a temporary consequence of the large once-off drop in oil prices last year and is not expected to last more than a couple of months. Nor does it suggest that the actual trend in prices was necessarily downwards in April, just that a very slight overall upward trend in everything else over the last 12 months was not enough to offset last year's drop in oil prices.

Inflation as measured by the Retail Prices Index (RPI) in April remained unchanged from the month before at 0.9%.

'Mild and benign'

Ian Stewart, chief economist at Deloitte, told the BBC that the fall was "likely to prove short-lived and positive for growth".

"Falling prices raise consumer spending power and help keep interest rates low. This looks like the mild and benign variety of deflation, which is good news for consumers and for growth," he said.

Andrew Sentance, senior economic adviser at PricewaterhouseCoopers and a former member of the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee, said he did not expect the fall in prices to be sustained.

"Once the impact of the big drop in oil prices drops out of the annual inflation rate, it will move back up to 1-2% over the next year or so. With wage inflation picking up, we may soon be considering the prospect of above-target inflation," he said.

"In the meantime, flat or slightly falling consumer prices are good for growth, boosting real consumer spending power. So a temporary period of slightly negative inflation can be good for the UK economy."

The sting in the tail of these comments about negative inflation being positive for growth is that they are only correct if people do not expect prices to continue falling.

Listening to the electorate ...

Most people have correctly concluded from the election results that all parties need to listen more to the electorate.

But not apparently former shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan MP ...

Quote of the day 21st May 2015

"Watching Ukip over the last few days has been like watching the final scene from Blazing Saddles. All it needed was Raheem Kassam to burst into the Sky newsroom and scream 'they’ve hit Bunny!' and the spectacle would have been complete. A shock and awful strategy? You wanted one, you got it"

(Dan Hodges in the Telegraph in an article arguing that Nigel Farage is the Europhiles' greatest weapon.)

Incidentally, although Dan's predictions about what would happen in the election proved vastly more accurate than those of most observers - he is one of the very few people who was correctly predicting a Tory victory - he did underestimate the number of votes UKIP would get and promised to run naked down Whitehall wearing a Nigel Farage mask and singing "Land of Hope and Glory" if they got more than 6%.

(link - https://twitter.com/dpjhodges/status/280038576283062273)

UKIP did in fact get about double that and apparently Dan intends to keep his promise in about a week's time in support of two great charities,Terrence Higgins Trust and Elizabeth's Legacy of Hope.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Self-defeating prophecies

Mythology is full of stories of self-fulfilling prophesies, but real history has more examples of self-defeating ones - for example, when potential disasters which before the event were serious risks have been averted because people took a warning seriously and did something about it.

The 2015 General election showed a particularly impressive crop of self-defeating prophesies. In no particular order:

1) Vote UKIP, get Labour

No, it didn't happen, but if potential Tory voters had voted UKIP, it might have, and in my opinion if the Conservatives had not been busily warning "Go to bed with Nigel and wake up with Miliband" it probably would have.

The extreme irony is that the Conservatives saw the danger, shouted loudly enough about it to convince a lot of Tory/UKIP waverers to vote Conservative, while the Labour leadership were convinced until the 2014 European election that it was erstwhile Conservatives rather than their own supporters who were turning UKIP. Labour eventually realised their danger but too little too late, and in the North of England there were probably more ex-Labour than ex-Tory UKIP voters.

If UKIP had been slightly more credible we might have had the opposite situation - that former Labour voters turning purple could have elected more Tory MPs. If they had managed a decent ground campaign and got a grip on their nutters, UKIP could have been taking Labour seats in significant numbers.

The Conservatives were afraid that UKIP could cost them the election, and because they convinced their supporters that this was possible it didn't happen. The Labour high command was also convinced that UKIP would indeed help win them the election, and because that made them complacent it had the opposite effect.

2) Vote SNP to lock the Conservatives out of government.

Actually the SNP cemented David Cameron into number ten. The biggest single factor we found on the doorstep, though not the only one, boosting Tory support in the last days of the campaign was the fear of what a minority Labour government dependent on SNP support might be like. This was not so much an anti-Scottish reaction - although the anti-English feeling whipped up by some elements of the SNP during the Independence campaign definitely made English voters understandably wary of the Nationalists - but a vote against what appeared likely to be a weak a d very-left wing government.


Can you think of some more?

Music to relax to: Libera sing "Voca Me"

Libera sing "Voca Me"

The words appear to be from Psalm 23 and the Requiem mass, the music is mostly by Robert Prizeman but he also used a musical theme from Pergolesi's beautiful duet "Stabat Mater" which was written in 1736 (in the last few weeks of Pergolesi's life).



And don't forget, #SupportOption1

Quote of the day 20th May 2015


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Lost and Confused of St Bees

I have to sympathise with the "Save St Bees School" Rescue team  who described themselves as being at a complete loss to understand the governors' announcement yesterday ...




 
They say that,
 
"On the one hand we are delighted that the Governors’ believe that they have found a way to re-open the school in 2016 in a different model. As you know, we always believed that a sustainable model could be found given time and proposed that the school remain open during 2015/16 to provide continuity while such a model was developed and implemented.

"And then on the other hand, we do not understand why the Governors believe that it is possible to operate the school in a different model from 2016 but not to run a school in the meantime and we hope that the Governors will explain their position in due course."

Replacing the Human Rights Act

Toby Young in the Speccie on the Human Rights Act:

"You'll regret not having a Human Rights Act when a left-wing government returns."

Matthew Dancona in the Guardian on the concerns of "Runnymede Tories" on the issue.

"The Human Rights Act spells peril for Cameron."

There is an important balancing act here. Labour have shown that they do not respect the unwritten rules of our original unwritten constitution.

The Conservative manifesto promise was not to leave Britain with no Bill of Rights but to have a distinctive British one.

Michael Gove will need to make sure that it is tough enough to prevent any future authoritarian government of whatever colour - like Tony Blair's for instance, which wanted to lock people up for three months without charge, and did manage to get an opposition spokesman arrested - from finding it easy to trample on the ancient liberties and freedoms of the British people.

Quote of the day 19th May 2015

"We in UKIP didn't exactly cover ourselves in glory last week."

(Paul Nuttall, UKIP deputy leader, first words of a statement issued on Sunday about the arguments over the UKIP leadership)

Monday, May 18, 2015

Rod Liddle on the supporters who put the rest of the country off Labour

A post by Rod Liddle on the sort of supporter Labour does not need ...

http://www.spectator.co.uk/columnists/rod-liddle/9529302/what-labour-needs-to-do-is-estrange-its-awful-voters/

Rod Liddle is of course a former Labour voter although he was expressing doubts before the 2015 election whether to vote for them this time.

His comments about the cultural mindset Labour have to break away from in order to win are couched in amusing language but there is a lot of truth in them. many a true word is spoken in jest.

A health warning for Conservatives, however, don't just laugh at Labour's woes. Remember - after their 1992 debacle Labour did manage to come back, change their appeal, and win power by inflicting on the Conservatives the worst defeat we have ever had. Never assume that Labour cannot come back.

We need to listen more to voters too, and we also need to work harder at making sure people realise we don't despise them.

St Bees School to re-open next year?

In a statement released through the Whitehaven News today, the governors of St Bees School, who had earlier said that the 400 year old institution would close its' doors this summer, confirmed their intention to reopen the school, possibly by September next year.

The statement read:

"Over the past month the governors have identified a number of opportunities for a sustainable future for St Bees School.

"This work has necessarily been undertaken discreetly and without publicity so as not to cause further distraction to the school community.

"The identified opportunities include both independent and maintained school models. However, regardless of the model adopted, the governors are determined that the outcome will retain the ethos, values and good name of St Bees School."

It will obviously be great news for the community if the school is saved, but if I understand the statement correctly, the present students are still looking for alternative schooling for at least a year, and the staff are still looking for new jobs.

Incidentally, the statement as it appears on the Whitehaven News website includes the sort of basic error with which I hope a school with the reputation of St Bees would never let their students get away. I corrected this above, but the version on the WHN website uses the word "discretely" (which means in separate pieces) where the context suggests it should use "discreetly" (e.g. with discretion.) I do hope this was only a transcription error.

Postscript: the Whitehaven News report quoted the statement as used. The typo is also on the school site. Dear me.

You can read the Whitehaven News report at:

http://www.whitehavennews.co.uk/st-bees-school-set-to-reope…

Here is the link to the full statement on the school site.

http://www.stbeesschool.co.uk/The-Future-of-St-Bees-School-Charitable-Trust

Much Ado about Nothing

Sometimes there is a huge row about the publication of a document or report, and when it finally sees the light of day you wonder what on earth all the fuss was about.

Perhaps the classic example comes from a naval conflict which took place a hundred years ago next year, the battle of Jutland.

Captain Harper was asked to write the official record of the battle: by the time it was published he had retired as a Rear Admiral.

"The Harper Record" was the subject of many questions in parliament about why it had not appeared, and various bureaucratic delays: when the official version was finally published it was disavowed by the Admiralty in a note on the fly-leaf. Admiral Harper was to write that

"The vicissitudes which the original Record underwent must, however, be patent to anyone who followed the series of tortuous manoeuvres and official prevarications in Parliament whenever it was asked for."

Harper went on to write a book on the subject which was called "The Truth About Jutland" - and yet if you read this book, which is a passionate defence of the Jellicoe, the RN Commander in Chief at the battle, and of most aspects of the Royal Navy's performance, you will wonder why on earth his views were controversial.

He did make a few mild criticisms of Admiral Beatty, Jellicoe's second in command and successor, and politely but firmly disagree with Winston Churchill. Beatty was First Sea Lord during most of the period when the "tortuous manoeuvres" about the "Harper Record" was taking place: Churchill had returned to office as Chancellor by the time the record came out, although I doubt if he had anything to do with the attempt to suppress Harper's views. Presumably Beatty or some of his supporters did not want Harper's criticisms to see the light of day: they probably did far more damage to his reputation because of the attempt to suppress them.

It is much the same with Prince Charles' so-called "Black Spider" letters. Why on earth was there such a fuss about them? I can only presume that the people responsible felt they had to protect the privacy of his correspondence but it might have been much simpler to have advised the prince years ago to ask for his letters to be published.

Few people reading them won't agree with at least some of the points he makes. I cannot see that there was anything sinister in them, and it is clear from the outcome that ministers did not feel under undue pressure to acceded to Prince Charles' suggestions if they did not agree with them.

Nor can I see that the impartiality of the monarchy has taken any significant damage. The picture that comes over in the letters is neither some right-wing ogre nor champagne socialist, just someone who cares.

From a filthy morning to a beautiful afternoon

One aspect of weather in Cumbria is how unpredictable it can be.

At 8am this morning and for a while after that it looked like an absolutely filthy day.

Yet by mid-morning it had stopped raining, by noon the sun had come out and by now it is a beautiful afternoon.

This is what the French call "Dog's weather"

The British say "Lovely weather for ducks," the French refer to the "Temps du chien."

It does seem to be the sort of day that gives filthy days a bad name ...

Quotes of the day 18th May 2015

".. there is a sort of political genius in being able to lose the Scots and terrify the English at the same time ..

"It was a great campaign except for in Scotland, England and Wales …”

(Michael Dugher, MP for Barnsley East, on Labour's campaign, as quoted in the Guardian here.)


"For the past week it looked like the wheels were coming off the Labour Party. Right now it looks as if the whole car is about to be dragged to the junk yard and pounded into scrap ..."

“Skipping a generation is all very nice,” one MP told me, “but that means finding someone who does actually know how to skip. All we’ve had so far is people tripping over the rope and falling flat on their face”.

(and on Europe)

 “There are some deep divisions on the issue that have been brushed under the carpet,” one MP explained, “but now someone’s nicked our broom.”

(Dan Hodges writing in yesterday's Sunday Telegraph here.)

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A time for steady nerves and ruthless clear-sightedness

On an earlier occasion when a Conservative government faced an opposition which was in complete disarray and the suggestion was being made in some quarters that with no effective alternative the Tories might be in power for a long time, I remember the response of the then Father of the House, Sir Bernard Braine MP.

"That's dangerous talk!" he barked, like an angry colonel warning his men not to get cocky and to keep their heads down where there might be enemy snipers about.

And by God, he was so right.

Just five years after the shock Conservative victory in 1992 left Labour morale in tatters came Blair's 1997 New Labour landslide.

Of course there is a massive element of schadenfreude for Conservatives in reading accounts of first UKIP and then Labour tearing themselves to pieces, and the temptation to gloat is almost irresistible, especially as in both cases, as the ironic saying goes, it couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of people.

But don't lets kid ourselves that the electorate loves us or that the Conservative position is secure.

David Cameron won because the alternatives seemed absolutely dire and because millions of voters just could not bring themselves to risk voting Labour. One of the reasons the polls were wrong is probably that many people who actively disliked the Conservative offer found in the actual voting booth with a pencil in their hand that the alternatives terrified them even more.

There are lessons for Conservatives too in the rubble of the Miliband campaign.

There are one or two very interesting comments in a Guardian article about the failure of Labour's campaign (and how some senior figures in the party have still not wised up) which you can read at

 http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/may/16/labour-great-crisis-ever.

Many Conservatives and journalists had strongly suspected that Ed Miliband was running a 35% strategy - trying to win with that percentage of the vote based on former Lib/Dem voters moving to  Labour and former Tory voters going UKIP.

In the article linked to above, Labour MP John Cruddas confirms this and also says where it came from: the 35% strategy had it's roots in the "Omnishambles" e.g. the mistakes the Conservatives made in 2012.

He argues that because the "Omnishambles" gave Labour a temporary double digit poll lead "which we hadn't earned" it created a temptation to play it safe, and instead of doing the "heavy lifting" of thinking out a big, positive strategy and addressing the party's problems, they tried to stick with the messages which motivated the Labour base and with easy hits - policies with which they thought people would feel comfortable but which did not really show any signs of addressing the difficult questions or moving outside Labour's comfort zone.

That argument works the other way around. Labour and UKIP are in a terrible mess and the Lib/Dems have had the worst beating I can ever recall a party getting. But the Conservatives cannot afford to assume that none of those parties will get their act together and reconnect with voters.

We need to use the next few months to do the difficult things which need doing but are not popular. And the Conservatives need to make every effort to reconnect with voters ourselves.

Someone famously said at the time that John Major's government in 1992, with a majority of 21, was at the mercy of eleven madmen: David Cameron's government, with a majority of 12, could find itself at the mercy of just seven backbench rebels.

So we have to make a start as soon as possible on compassionate but effective welfare reform, keeping the promises made to Scotland during the referendum (which means what it says, not appeasing every demand from the SNP), getting the boundary changes through, and measures to continue the economic recovery.

The bill to set up a referendum on EU membership also needs to be addressed quickly, and every effort made to ensure insofar as this is possible that both "In" and "Out" sides regard the question asked, as well as the rules for the referendum such as the arrangements for TV coverage of each side of the debate, spending limits etc as fair.

This is important for the country but doubly so for the Conservatives: it is inevitable that significant parts of the Conservative party will be on each side of the referendum debate. Whichever way it goes the successful side is going to have to work with the people who have lost. That will be much easier if the people on the losing side accept that the result was fair and genuinely reflected the will of the British people, than if they feel robbed.

To keep moving forward on the difficult measures necessary to maintain the recovery and resist the temptation to start fighting amongst ourselves when Labour fails for a while to provide an effective opposition will require steady nerves and ruthless clear-sightedness. But it must be done.

Sunday Music spot: "Adoramus" by Libera

Judging by the traffic figures and one or two comments received, the "Music to relax after campaigning" slot during the elections went down well with a number of those who visit the blog, so I am going to include a regular music spot on the blog each weekend.

"Libera" perform an eclectic mix of ancient and modern music fused together. Here is one of their most popular pieces, "Adoramus" performed in Holland in about 2007.



And yes, I am still doing my Cato the Elder act on the hospitals: we need consultant-led maternity at WCH and FGH so #SupportOption1

Quote of the day 17th May 2015

"Labour governments are always voted in by empty minds and voted out by empty pockets"

("JohnLooney," poster on Vote UK discussion board)

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Go back to your constituencies and prepare for gardening ...

After trying to catch up on work for much of the past week, today I tackled my garden for the first time in four months.

Having spent almost every spare moment from February to the day after the General Election on electioneering (not that I wasn't spending a fair amount of time before that!) my garden was beginning to show signs of developing into something remarkably like an Amazonian rain forest!

Amazing how quickly the power of nature can turn a tidy lawn into a jungle. Fortunately the lawnmover was still operational and I just about caught the situation before we would have had to send for Indiana Jones. (Understand the Daily Mail has tracked down the "Ed Stone" so Indy will no longer need to go on a search for the missing Labour pledge stone.")

Music to relax: "Come Away, Fellow Sailors" from Dido and Aeneas

This is the first aria and chorus from Purcell's opera, "Dido and Aeneas. I had been scheduled to sing this solo at a University Chamber Choir performance at Bristol in 1982 but sadly after doing all the work I was knocked off a motor scooter and was in hospital with a fractured pelvis at the time of the concert. Another tenor had to stand in for me.

Despite that unfortunate event I love this amusing if rather mischievous piece ...



And of course #SupportOption1

Quote of the day 16th May 2015


Friday, May 15, 2015

Some on the left start to "get it"

The reaction to the General Election result on the British political left has ranged between very funny and rather annoying, with their shock and horror at Labour not winning proving a good illustration of why they didn't.

A few voices of sanity, however, are emerging, who recognise that no party has a monopoly of wisdom.

I hope that  whoever becomes Labour leader does listen to those who recognise that there is more than one point of view and voting Tory does not equate to having two heads or hating the poor.

A good article on this subject by Suzanne Moore, titled

"Working-class Tories are not just turkeys voting for Christmas."

Quote of the day 15th May 2015


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Music to relax to: Purcell's Frost song

The posts here during the election campaign of music to relax after campaigning seem to have been popular to judge by the number of hits, so I shall continue to post a great piece of music here once or twice a week.



Today's is by Henry Purcell from "King Arthur" and although I know it as "The Frost Song" I have also heard it called "The Cold Song" and "The Cold Genius."



The pictures show, appropriately, the "Frost Fairs" held on the Thames in Purcell's time when the river sometimes completely froze over.







And don't forget, #SupportOption1

On Proportional Representation

Yes, it is unfair that the vote which spread over Scotland gave the SNP all but three of the 59 MPs for Scotland was barely a third of the vote which, spread over the entire UK, gave UKIP one seat, significantly less than the vote which gave the Lib/Dems eight seats, and only slightly more than the vote which gave the Greens one seat.

Unfortunately there is no perfect and completely fair election system.

I personally believe that one of the most important criteria for an election system is how easy it makes it for the electorate to "throw the rascals out."

E.g. if a party has seriously offended the electorate it important that the electorate can remove them, as they removed the Conservatives in 1997, Labour in 2010 and the Lib/Dems this year.

I am not saying I am necessarily agree with how the voters used that power, but it is critical to democracy that voters have it and all the parties know they can use it.

"First Past the Post" is a "crunchy" system in the Nico Colchester sense in that significant changes in the votes cast for a political party can have a devastating effect. That in turn means it gives voters far more power over politicians.

It is not impossible to wipe out a major party under a PR system - as the Lib/Dems found out at the 2014 euro elections - but it is much harder. And any system which features closed party lists - particularly the dire D'Hondt system used in Euro elections, but this also applies to most additional member systems like that used in Germany, give the party machines far, far too much power to appoint parliamentarians.

So although what happened to the Lib/Dems, Greens, and UKIP last week was cruel, and looks very unfair compared with what happened to the SNP, I could only consider changing it if the replacement system (and don'[t forget that there are many different forms of PR) passes the following three tests

1) It is a "crunchy" system in which significant loss of support means significant loss of seats so that politicians have to fear the electorate

2) It is a system that gives as much power as possible to voters as compared to party machines

3) It should not be impossible for a party with a strong lead to get a majority.

As proportional representation systems go, I am personally fond of the STV (Single Transferable Vote) system used in Ireland and in student elections in most British elections. When I mentioned this in a facebook discussion this week, two Bristol University friends (one of whom, like me had acted as Returning Officer in STV elections there because we understood it) both said that the problem with the system is that it is too complicated to explain to people.

My first reaction was that this was an insult to the intelligence of voters. I asked jokingly whether my friends were saying that STV would be a good system except that we can't trust the voters to understand it!

But casting my mind back to discussions with members of the electorate, there is one problem with laughing at that argument: voters who are not political anoraks do indeed tend to have a negative reaction to STV. Three thousand votes were spoiled in the Mayoral election last week because voters appeared not to understand a very simple form of first and second preference voting. STV is indeed far more complicated.

I remember about twenty years ago when what was then called the Liberal/SDP Alliance was committed to STV I discovered that there was a 100% effective tactic to discourage an Alliance vote from floating voters who were interested enough to talk about the issue and wavering the Alliance because first past the post wasn't fair.

I would ask them if they knew what system the Lib/SDP alliance was proposing instead and how it worked. They invariably didn't. So I gave them an honest and accurate description of how STV works, with no negative spin whatever, just going through the facts about it.

In every single case, the voter's reaction was something along the lines of

"What, is THAT what they want? I really don't like that."

One final thought, echoing a tweet from Dan Hodges today. We have been watching UKIP tear themselves apart. If we had PR, he said, these people would be running the country.

He's right, of course. If we had proportional representation, UKIP would have around 12.6% of the seats in the House of Commons, which would probably put them in government. The nearest thing to a stable government which could be formed would be a Tory/UKIP/DUP coalition.

Ouch!